Sunday, March 28, 2010

Charting a New Course

I decided to make a few changes over the last few weeks regarding my alternative medicine treatments.

During my last chemo break I continued the vitamin C treatment only to find that I really did not feel very well, the afternoon of the treatment and during the following few days. I was terribly tired and just felt lousy overall. Also, the neuropathy continued to worsen.

I did speak to the “fellow” who is working with my oncologist about the neuropathy and later, the oncologist. Both said it would continue to get worse. The fellow said if it gets really bad they would cut back on the treatment, either by lessening the chemo dose or the frequency of the treatments. When I spoke to the doctor, she said neither of those were options for me as the cancer would begin to grow again; yes, scaring the s..t out of me!

Not to be defeated, I decided to try a few things on my own. I learned on the internet that Vitamin B is supposed to help with neuropathy, so I called the doctor and ordered up some pills. One of the effects of neuropathy is that you can lose muscle control/mass, so I now keep a weight near the sofa. When I sit for any period of time, I put the weight under the balls of my feet and roll it back and forth. This is my own idea, I really don’t know if it will help. I also started doing some exercises with my hands using the dumbbell. I had learned these from an exercise program geared toward basketball players that were designed to strengthen the hands. I am also getting some squeegee balls that Jean picked up at a convention to work my hands.

Finally, I made a series of appointments with an acupuncturist. Dureet works in an office two blocks from our condo. What I did not know until we met is that she works several days a week with cancer patients at the American Cancer Center. She is very familiar with neuropathy, and recently attended a workshop at Sloane Kettering on the subject. She said her patients do see results – although it may take time. She also said that acupuncture has been shown to help people with allergies, so I am hoping it will help with my sinus issues as well. Another good aspect to this decision is that it is much cheaper than the vitamin C infusions; two acupuncture sessions are less than one C infusion. They will take less time (1 hr vs. 3) and, to top it off, I get to lie on a heated bed. Tuesday is my first session.

I have felt surprisingly well during this chemo break, having many days with lots of energy. It has also been a busy week. My art class ended on Wednesday and I signed up for another which begins in a few weeks. Thierry and I have been to two concerts, and I went bowling with the family and friends (TD paid Curlew a visit). I haven’t bowled in probably 20 years – it was great fun. Dad came and coached Juan (my brother-in-law). Mike was the big winner. I managed to break 100 the first game, bowled 78 in the second.

We’ve booked a number of day tours that we will take when we are in Italy. In case I didn’t mention that yet on the blog (with Facebook things get confusing), we are going to spend two weeks in Florence in April. We rented an apartment and plan on taking day trips to see Tuscany. We also booked a hotel in Venice, where we will spend two days. Lauren and Mike will join us on the second week. We are all very excited. I have never been to Italy.

It was a great week, and tonight another great meal at mom’s – I’m cooking!

NOTE: The picture of the Kimmel Center stage was taken by Thierry on his cellphone. We heard a performance of Mahler's Symphony #2 by the San Francisco Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. The bowling picture was taken by Joan on my cell phone.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Dear Journal

The subject of journals came up at our book club meeting a few weeks ago. We had been discussing the book, “Sing Them Home” by Stephanie Kallos. A very long story about a dysfunctional family from Nebraska, that takes them from present, back through the past, and back up to the present again in some 600+ pages, paperback.

The story focuses on three children who watched as their mother was felled by MS, and who on the day of her planned suicide is swept up along with their home and the youngest child (a daughter) in a tornado. The mother’s body is never found but the child survives, having landed in the roots of an upturned tree. The mother’s story is told by way of her journal, pages of which somehow survived after being thrown in a fire the day of the suicide attempt (and retrieved by her daughter) and then swept up in the tornado.

A lively dialog took place about whether people should destroy their journal before their death (assuming one's timing is good), keep a journal after someone’s death, share one’s journal, or whether a survivor should share the stories found in a deceased relative’s journal. One of our members was adamant that she wanted no one to see her journal as she wrote it in times of great personal strife. She felt it wasn’t necessary for anyone to know these intimacies, but also feared them being taken out of context since the stories didn’t really reflect who she was today – but who she was during one specific period in her life.

Another told the story of a person she knew who died at a fairly young age, and excerpts of her journal were read by her children at her memorial service – something my friend thought was too intimate (I think) to be shared. Another member of our group has been journaling for years and has about six volumes completed. She is hoping her children will read it when she passes, thinking that maybe they will get some insight into who she really was.

I have only sporadically journaled. All during my catholic schools days we were encouraged to keep a journal. It was said that journaling would help with our writing and grammar. I never had the desire, and later never made the time.

After Doug passed and I cleaned out his stuff, I came across some old letters and drafts of letters he had written to his two ex-wives. I was quite shocked to see that these letters discussed marital issues they were having – the same issues with both wives – and the same issues he and I had been arguing over for years! Needless to say it left me in quite a state as we had been through counseling (he with his feet dragging), and then you learn that you had been trying to deal with things that would never be resolved. Maybe the lesson is, clean out anything you don’t want your surviving wife/partner to find!

At any rate, I started to journal then to get my head around what had transpired the last few years of our marriage, and how I was going to deal with my new found realization. I probably have that journal somewhere. Would I want someone to find it? I don’t think I care. During some of our trips, I have journaled – noting places we visited, restaurants where we dined, etc. I don’t think these would really interest anyone, nor would I be embarrassed for someone to find them. My blog is my journal, and I am happy to share what’s on my mind with anyone. I am amazed that people are interested. It is my release. I hope my daughter reads it and gets a little more insight into who her mother is. That is really what it is for. Oh, and maybe someday for the grandchildren that I may never know.

Do you journal? What do you want to happen with it, with your stories? Do you ever go back and reread what you wrote years ago? Maybe it would be a good exercise to go back and see where you’ve come from and how you’ve grown – or not.  Maybe it’s a good time to check to see if we continue to make the same mistakes.

Today is a beautiful day. Temperatures in the 70’s. I walked across the Ben Franklin Bridge this morning with our friend Susie. We then piled into C-Minor and took a lovely boat ride on the Delaware River. Tonight we have dinner at our friend Ann’s, a concert on Sunday and dinner with the family. It’s going to be another wonderful weekend.

Pictures taken today, courtesy of Susie - a marvelous photographer!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

I Guess I'm Just a Good O'l Socialist

I’ve never wanted to get political on my blog, but I received an email that so incensed me I felt I had to address the topic. The email started like this:

Did you know.... If you're a conservative and belong to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), .you're actually funding Barack Obama's radical agenda to change America into an all-powerful Socialist State.

I am so fed up with the Right screaming about the “socialist agenda” of President Obama. They have become as rigid as some Muslims in their way of thinking, and in their approach to issues and their inability to have any dialog that stretches their narrow views. This President, when he just began his term, was immediately targeted by the Right for extinction. Why, because he is “half” black? What are they afraid of, losing power? Is that what this game is all about? Never before do I remember hearing so much disrespectful drivel towards a president coming out of the mouths of Americans, where their slander was not immediately denounced as un-American. And then it was certainly not supported by the mainstream media as it is now by some channels.

Is his agenda “socialist” because he is trying to ensure that all Americans have access to healthcare? I am sure this is not the “only” reason, but surely it is one of the drivers. As I’ve mentioned before in my blog, I live in fear that I will lose my health insurance which will surely speed my death. But the reality is that this is an issue that confronts so many people on so many socio-economic levels – and it will only get worse.

When I see all these people protesting against healthcare reform, I have to ask myself, where do they get their insurance? Are they current retirees on Medicare, are they receiving wonderful retiree health benefits as veterans or as former government workers, or are they lucky to work for a major corporation, school system or union that provides their medical? It is interesting to note that we, as taxpayers, subsidize much of these costs, whether directly through our taxes or indirectly in the cost of services.

The percentage of Americans with Medicaid, Medicare, or military/veterans coverage increased to an average of 24.6% last year, from 23.3% in the year prior. The percentage with employer-based healthcare dropped to an average of 46.8% in 2009, from 49.2% in 2008. These numbers are surely lower now.

Dennis Cauchon of USA Today and Stephane Fitch of Forbes recently wrote that “State and local governments have set aside virtually no money to pay $1 trillion or more in medical benefits for retired civil servants… With bills coming due as Baby Boomers start to retire, states, cities, school districts and other governments may be forced to raise taxes, cut benefits or both.” They further added "that the task of cutting benefits for government employees is especially difficult because state and local politicians are generally beholden to the government employee unions.” Let’s not forget it’s all about getting re-elected – so don’t expect to see any movement to make any changes here.

Cauchon also spotlights the big picture problem: “These medical costs are part of a larger burden taxpayers face in providing health care for an aging population. The federal government has a $1.2 trillion unfunded obligation to pay medical costs for retired.”

For those that currently are depending on their corporations to provide retiree healthcare benefits (especially for pre-65 year old retirees), the future may hold quite a shock. A Watson Wyatt study indicated that “The benefits provided to future retirees will be significantly less generous than those current retirees receive today, as employers are cutting back, capping or completely eliminating their retiree health benefits programs. They further state that the net result of public policy and skyrocketing medical costs has been to render retiree health benefits economically irrational for many employers. Many employers have already reduced or eliminated retiree health benefits, and the trend will only accelerate as health care costs climb. The burden on retirees to pay for their own health care is increasing dramatically, and far too few employees are prepared for the magnitude of the changes that will befall them.”

One advantage for corporate retirees is that they have “access” to group benefits which tends to limit the increase in premiums. But what about all those workers who do not have retiree benefits and retire prior to age 65 - or the self-employed - or those who work for small employers that do not provide healthcare benefits (or do so at a significant cost to the employee).

When people lose their coverage and get over the shock of the cost of COBRA benefits which expire after 18 months, they fall into the “individual” policy category. Costs for these benefits can be staggering. When Thierry’s COBRA benefits ended a few years ago and he tried to switch to an individual plan, the cost went from $395 to $675 per month. Six months later it went up to $845 per month. Eight months later it went to $958, and two months after that he received a notice that the cost was going to $1,346! AND THIS was for an HMO – not even a top of the line plan. Do the math; insurance would have become unaffordable after a few years!

No system is perfect, but we have to start somewhere. The cost of insuring the uninsured is significant, but the cost of doing nothing is much greater. Sitting with your arms crossed in front of you and spouting conservative rhetoric is not going to get us moving forward. It might be said that President Obama is an idealist – aren’t there worse things? Perhaps if this country instituted term limits for members of congress, it would help remove the fear of re-election which is keeping this country at a standstill. I was grateful that this President has tried to improve our country’s image abroad after the damage that was done during the last administration; now I live in fear that this subversive Right may turn us into another third world country, catering to a ranting minority who thrives on conspiracy theories and fear mongering.

As I write this it is gloomy outside, with the wind driving the heavy rain against our windows. Notwithstanding my agitation and this gloom hovering, I feel pretty good and I am going to party tonight – so on average – it will end up being a good day.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Just Call Me Sentimental

It’s been a busy couple of weeks so I am somewhat behind in my writing.

Last week Thierry got the urge to clean out old files which pushed me to do the same. We purged a bunch of documents (almost wore out the shredder), and made new files for 2010 – albeit a bit late. I also began to clean out some old files that had been sitting on my shelves and found a stack of Christmas cards from this past Christmas, along with wedding cards we received last year, as well as get well wishes that I received when folks heard of my illness, and old birthday cards.

I knew what to do with the files, but the cards were another thing. What do you save when it comes to greeting cards? I have mother’s day and birthday cards from Lauren that go back pretty far, and a few that my sister had sent me -she always picks out beautiful cards and writes such lovely sentiments inside. I have a few cards I received from my parents that actually had something very special written inside and whatever cards I received from Thierry.

When I cleaned out my old houses just before moving, I tossed stacks of cards – after first salvaging those I thought I should keep (as mentioned above). One day, all remaining cards that I have received will be tossed out with all the other junk I have collected. So, the question remains, what should I keep today and leave for someone else to pitch later on.

I decided to toss the Christmas cards, but did save two that were hand done and quite pretty. I threw out the birthday cards, but am hanging onto the get well wishes – I think they could be a big boost to my mood from time to time. I’m also on the fence about the wedding cards. I think I’ll throw them in the bin, but not yet. I was once told I was not sentimental – is this an indication that I might be just a bit or am I keeping them to prove I am?

The ironic thing is, when it comes to cards, I am lousy at sending them, but love to receive them! I am not good at remembering birthdays, although my computer calendar has helped somewhat. Problem is, Thierry is not good about it either – so we tend often to be late in getting things out. In my previous marriage, cards were a big issue. I have a big family, and only send cards to immediate family members (when I remember). It was considered to be the wife’s responsibility to be sure cards went out – which I naturally resented as I never sent cards to my aunts and cousins and didn’t see why I should send them to his!

Now, when reminded, cards will go out to my dear aunts and uncle – you see there are not too many left. Today things are easier, as you can send an e-card. Deep down I think e-cards are somewhat impersonal – there is something about picking out a card, writing something on it and posting it that just makes sending a paper card special. However, I often resort to the e-card as I am usually too late to get the card in the mail.

As I mentioned, it has been a busy couple of weeks. I went to the flower show with several dear friends (it was wonderful - picture by Juan). We went to an opera (Tea – written by Tan Dun, a Chinese/American - very unusual), had dinner several nights with friends, mid-week family dinner (spaghetti and meatballs a la Lauren), heard an organ concert today by Cameron Carpenter – very entertaining. Click on his name to play a clip of him rehearsing one of the pieces he played today at the Kimmel Center.

Tomorrow I am going with my friend Jeanne to hit some golf balls (haven’t done that in about six years).

The sun was out today, the temperature was in the 50’s, I wore a wool coat instead of my down coat – which has been my standard for the past three months – it has been a good couple of weeks!